Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Stuffed Bear Mystery
A roomy car carrying four children and their grandfather made its way up into the mountains. As the car climbed higher and higher, the children in the car yawned and stretched.
Six-year-old Benny Alden yawned twice to pop his ears. The car was so high up! The mountains must have grown while he’d been dozing. Now he was wide awake again. “Hey,” he said. “What are those cotton balls on the hills?”
The other Alden children—Henry, Jessie, and Violet—laughed along with their grandfather, James Alden.
Jessie, who was twelve, turned around from the front seat. “You’d better rub the sleep from your eyes, Benny. Those are sheep, not cotton balls. They still have on their thick winter coats. That’s why they look so fat and fuzzy.”
“Not for long,” fourteen-year-old Henry said, ruffling Benny’s brown hair. “Peggy and Doc Firman told Grandfather our visit is just in time to help them with sheep shearing. I’d like to see that.”
“Know what I’d like?” ten-year-old Violet asked. “I’d like to help Peggy sew some of her Peggy Bears. Didn’t she say we might get to do that, Grandfather? I hope so.”
“I know so.” Grandfather smiled at Violet in the rearview mirror. “When I told Peggy Firman how handy you are with a needle and thread, she couldn’t wait for us to stay at Woolly Farm. She’s got her hands full designing and sewing her teddy bears to sell at the Old Mills Teddy Bear Jamboree.”
Benny reached into his backpack. He pulled out a scruffy, sad-looking teddy bear that often went along on family trips. “I hope you don’t get jealous of Peggy’s new-looking bears, Mister B.,” he told the stuffed brown bear.
“Mister B. is certainly showing his age,” Grandfather Alden said. “He’s traveled on quite a few trips since I was a boy.”
Violet reached over to stroke the bear’s droopy head. “Poor Mister B. I think it’s time to bring you to Doctor Firman’s Toy Hospital. You need some nice wool stuffing and a new eye.”
Mister B. stared back at Violet with his one glass eye. Yes, it was time for a visit to the doctor’s.
Mr. Alden slowed down when he reached Old Mills. “Awful lot of cars today,” he said. “People are already arriving for the Teddy Bear Jamboree.” Mr. Alden pointed to a small wooden building next to the Old Mills General Store. “There’s Doc Firman’s Toy Hospital.”
“I wish we could go in right now,” Violet said, disappointed to see a CLOSED sign. “I guess someone else wants to go in, too. Look, there’s a woman knocking at the window as if she sees somebody inside.”
“Whoa!” Henry said as their car pulled up next to a yellow van. “Check out the big red bear. It’s sitting in the front seat like a real person, with a seat belt on and everything.”
Jessie giggled. “Who could it belong to? It looks funny sitting there—as if it’s waiting for its owner to come back.”
“Here comes that woman who was tapping on the window,” Henry said. “The big bear must belong to her.”
As soon as the woman got behind the wheel, she blew her horn for Mr. Alden to move.
Jessie rolled down the window. “Sorry. We’re stuck in traffic, too. I like your bear.”
“I have an emergency!” The woman honked again.
At last the traffic cleared up, and Mr. Alden pulled away. A few moments later, the woman passed the Aldens’ car just outside of Old Mills. “Goodness, I wonder what kind of emergency she has,” Mr. Alden said.
“A big red bear emergency,” Henry said.
“Look, there’s a sign for Woolly Farm!” Benny cried when the car rounded a curve in the road. “Half a mile.”
Half a mile later, Grandfather drove up a long dirt road. By now the Aldens could see that the cotton balls on the hills had sooty black faces. The children rolled down their windows.
“Hey, sheep!” Benny yelled out. “Baa!”
“Baa! Baa! Baa!” the sheep bleated back.
At the end of the road stood a red house with a white porch all around. A few sheep munching on the front lawn looked up when the Aldens pulled in. Then they went right back to snacking on the grass.
A cheery woman with curly silver hair came out carrying a fluffy white-haired lamb. “Hello, Aldens!” the woman said when she saw the family. “I’m Peggy.” She handed the lamb to Benny so she could give Mr. Alden a hug. “I’m so glad you brought the children to stay with us,” she said to Grandfather.
A smiling bearded man in farmer’s overalls greeted the Aldens. “Welcome to Woolly Farm. I’m Raymond Firman, but everybody calls me Doc. I take care of live animals like that lamb you’re holding and stuffed animals like this fellow.” He nodded at Mister B., who was sticking out of Benny’s backpack. “Mind if I take a look at him?”
Benny could hardly take his eyes off the lamb in his arms. “Sure, go ahead. His name is Mister B. Hey, you,” he crooned to the warm fuzzy creature with the long black eyelashes.
“Baa!” the lamb cried back.
Grandfather looked around at all the animals scurrying about. “You seem to have more animals than people here.”
Nearby, a yellow cat chased a squawky, but very quick, rooster.
“Don’t worry about Rudy, our rooster,” Peggy said. “Buttercup is too slow to catch him.”
Two friendly dogs came around to sniff the Aldens one by one.
“The collie is Taf,” Peggy told the Aldens. “The black mutt is Midnight,” Peggy said. “We found him wandering around Woolly Farm one day, and he never left.”
“That’s how we got our dog, Watch,” Violet told Peggy. “He wandered in from the woods to the boxcar we lived in after our parents died. Before Grandfather found us, Watch found us.”
“And I’m certainly glad he did,” Grandfather said. “Well, I’ll take the suitcases from the car, children. After that, I’ll be heading north for a couple days on business. So I’ll say good-bye now.”
The children each gave Grandfather a good-bye hug.
“Are we the only guests at Woolly Farm?” Jessie asked after Grandfather left.
“Oh, we’ll have a full house by the time the Teddy Bear Jamboree opens,” Peggy answered.
“Don’t forget you-know-who,” Doc whispered when a woman rushed toward everyone. “Hello, Miss Sayer. Meet the Aldens. They’ve come for the Teddy Bear Jamboree as well.”
“Hi,” Jessie said when she recognized the woman. “We saw you and your bear when we were stuck in traffic just a little while ago.”
The woman, whose red and white polka-dotted hat seemed about to blow away, paid no mind to the Aldens. “I’ve been searching for you all morning, Doctor Firman. You keep disappearing on me. Well, never mind. I need you to check Chatter Bear right away.”
The Aldens saw Peggy and Doc exchange looks as if this had happened before.
“Now, now, Miss Sayer,” Peggy said. “I’m sure you’ll want Doc to check Chatter Bear at the toy hospital so he can be examined properly.”
The woman clamped down her hat, squashing the bow on top. “Well, I suppose so. But I will expect Chatter Bear to be your first patient when you open the hospital in the morning.” With that, Miss Sayer stomped off in her green mud boots, carrying her orange plastic tote bag.
Doc smiled. “Miss Sayer is one of my regulars. She comes to the jamboree every year with some new bear she’s designed or copied from old bears. She can’t quite make a go of her bear business, though. Now she’s hoping to interest a toy factory in making a talking bear.”
Peggy sighed. “Every time we turn around, there’s Miss Sayer and Chatter Bear. Yesterday I found her in my studio looking at fabrics. I think her bear has more outfits than I do.”
Doc examined the Aldens’ bear. He didn’t have any kind of outfit at all. “Mister B. here is quite a different fellow than Chatter Bear. We’ll have him on the mend soon. Bring him by in the morning, children. I have a soft spot for soft old bears like Mister B.”
Standing on the hill, Peggy and the Aldens watched Miss Sayer struggle to get Chatter Bear out of her van.
“They’re quite a pair,” Peggy said. “I’m not sure Chatter Bear is quite ready for the jamboree. He has a few problems, what with his voice box and battery-powered eyes. Doc tried to tell Miss Sayer she might do better by designing a simple bear, but she won’t listen.”
Violet hugged Mister B. “I’m glad our bear doesn’t have eyes that need batteries. He’s only got one eye, anyway.”
Peggy gave the Aldens’ bear a gentle pat. “Never you mind, Mister B. I’m sure Doc will get you a new glass eye. We’ll soon have plenty of natural sheep wool to fatten you up. Now let’s go to Shepherd’s Cottage. That’s where you children will be staying. Don’t mind the animal parade,” she said when her pets followed everyone.
After the children got their suitcases, Peggy brought them by the barn. “This is where we shear our sheep and prepare the wool we use for my bears.”
Peggy noticed Miss Sayer’s yellow van parked next to the barn. “Oh, dear. I asked Miss Sayer not to go in there without one of us. She crashes around so, scaring the sheep. Besides, I really can’t have her alone with all my wool-making equipment.”
Benny tugged on Peggy’s sleeve. “Can we go in there? I promise not to scare the lambs, especially this guy.”
Peggy saw how gently Benny held the lamb in his arms. “Of course. Not right now, though.” She stuck her head in the door. “Yoo-hoo, Miss Sayer. I’m locking up now.”
Peggy clicked the padlock. “She must be somewhere else. I wish she would park in the area for the guests.”
Soon they came to a small red and white cottage.
“Oh,” Violet said when Peggy let the children inside Shepherd’s Cottage. “It’s like my room at home, with flowered wallpaper.”
“Aw!” Benny said. “It doesn’t look like where a shepherd would live. Couldn’t we sleep in the hayloft like real shepherds?”
Peggy chuckled. “Taf and Midnight are our shepherds. If there’s time, you’re welcome to play in the hayloft. Just be careful climbing up. We keep the ladder outside so we can load the hay directly from the wagon. But it wouldn’t be safe to sleep up there—you might roll off!”
“Here are some real beds.” Violet put Mister B. down on one of them. His head flopped onto his chest.
“After you drop off Mister B. at the toy hospital tomorrow, I hope you can help us with the sheep shearing,” Peggy said. “How does that sound?”
“Like fun!” Henry said. “Work is the best fun of all.”
Peggy stepped onto the porch. “See you in the morning,” she said.
Benny looked down at the lamb. “Hey, what do I do with this little guy? I don’t want to wake him up.”
Peggy pointed to a small wooden crate just inside the doorway. It was filled with clouds of fleece. “Just lay him down there. He can spend the night in here. If he wakes up crying, give him this.” Peggy pulled a baby bottle from her jacket pocket. “Just make sure to keep him inside. It’s still cold at night, and he needs to stay warm. And one other thing.”
“What?” Benny asked.
“He needs a name,” Peggy answered. “Your grandfather said you were good at naming things.”
Benny stroked the lamb’s black forehead for a minute. “Smudge. I’d like to call him Smudge.”
“Smudge was better than an alarm clock,” Benny said the next morning when the children walked into Old Mills. “He woke me up a bunch of times, so I gave him his bottle and he drank the whole thing. He’s just like a baby.”
Jessie chuckled. “When you were a baby Henry and I used to give you a bottle when you woke us up.
always drank the whole thing, too.”
As the Aldens walked along, Miss Sayer’s van went by. The children waved, but the van didn’t slow down. The children could see Chatter Bear’s large red head staring straight ahead at the road.